New leadership appointed at Mill Mountain Zoo

(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - New leadership takes over at Mill Mountain Zoo.

The board announced Executive Director Lucy Cook has been replaced with two co-executive directors who are long-time zoo employees.

Cook held the position for a year and a half. She was recruited from New York for her extensive fundraising background.

The change comes just months after the zoo lost its AZA accreditation for cited "financial instability."

While board president David Robertson couldn't elaborate on specific details on why Cook was replaced due to personnel matters, he said a decline in visitors and financial stability in recent years called for major changes.

"In the context of all of it, we are looking to make a lot of changes. We are looking to sort of recast part of collection to the Virginia-centric collection and that's going to be part of our change, part of our redesign. Inclusive of that is a leadership change," Robertson said.

The board announced last week Executive Director Lucy Cook would be replaced by two current employees, animal curator Robin Lentz and Director of Operations Bill Baker.

With a combined 45 years of experience, Robertson said he has high hopes for the two.

"(They will) help lead this change, lead us into a new direction, new future for our organization," Robertson said.

"It's a very exciting time not just for me, but for the entire staff and the facility," Baker said.

Co-director Bill Baker walked WSLS 10 through the facility to discuss what's to come.

The addition of new animals like the pair of red foxes that are native to our area is a big part of the approach to attract new visitors, as well as local school groups.

"I think us providing a regional context will be nothing but an asset to that regard," Baker said.

Having local species in exhibit, like Nina the mountain lion, also ties in with new regional branding, Virginia's Blue Ridge, which will help attract visitors from outside of our area.

"We have the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway that runs through us, we serve as the gateway to that so we are trying to tie it all together," Robertson said.

Along with the new additions, the new leadership plans to keep the traditional wow factors of big cats and the cute and cuddly like their entertaining otters.

It's all with the hopes of revitalizing Mill Mountain Zoo.

About the Author: